Ask a Trainer: How Do I Stay Healthy in the “Search for Vert”?

In a season of no racing, many athletes are going up—chasing vertical miles as part of one of several unique challenges. Strength coach Kate Ligler gives her advice for building a foundation that will help stay strong and healthy as you chase your virtual finish line.

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This year will be defined by many things in years to come. Namely, COVID-19 (of course) in addition to murder hornets, and yes, even locusts.

But specific to triathletes, 2020 has also been the year of sourdough starters (sponsored by Instagram Stories), an uprising of homemade swimming pools (and fail vids), and most notably, the birth of virtual racing as a new category of competition.

Although my performance background is bike-specific, my world as a strength and conditioning coach is entirely swim, bike, and run. Like my athletes, I too initially grieved the loss of my early-season fitness and began to seek out virtual alternatives to help me feel connected to community, complement a step back into strength-focused foundational training, and throw down in a competitive realm.

I know many of you are with me this summer on what I call, “the search for vert.” Whether you are Everesting, a #GiddyUp alum with Rebecca Rusch, or aiming for the 100K club in the current Leadville Challenge, we have the opportunity to emerge from this “non-season” of racing as physically stronger athletes than we’ve been for some time.

But how do you prepare for your #summerofstrong? Or, for those of you already in the mix, how do you now safely structure strength workouts to keep you balanced and mobile as the vertical feet pour into your workouts?

Your Non-Negotiables

1. Turn on your tush.

Do it early. Do it often. Be intentional. I’m talking about working your tilt, truly learning a hinge, and nailing your bridges. Here’s one of my favorite pre-workout variations.

2. Keep your eyes to the front.

A muscle the size of your pinkie (literally) can make or break your next 4-6 weeks. These tricky buggers are part of your anterior hip capsule, or the muscles responsible for lifting your leg, and perhaps better known as “YOUR EVERYTHING” to a triathlete. Stabilize, mobilize, and strengthen the area between your hip bones with laser-sharp focus.

3. Tight and strong are rarely synonymous.

That hamstring that’s tighter than your wetsuit after holiday break? I guarantee it’s not as strong as you think it is, and in fact, will probably fail in a routine strength test. Mobilize your tight spots and then work to build intentional strength. Need a mobility check-in? Grab video of yourself in the following movements, and see where your tight spots are hiding: Hamstrings? Upper back? Hips? Chest/Shoulders?

4. Sometimes it’s okay to serve the masses.

There is enormous value in being “generally athletic” for every triathlete. And before you say, “I don’t have time for that,” you’ll be forced to make time once you’re injured. Move laterally. Learn basic agility. Become a more coordinated human. I promise you’ll swim, bike, and run with greater competency (and decreased risk of injury) if you learn to move well.

Your takeaway: Now is the time to rebrand your 2020.

Get out and go search for some vert and in the process, spend an extra session or two per week strengthening, mobilizing, and just playing. Once racing season reappears, you will be ready to leverage your summer of strong into “the best thing” that happened in 2020.

Kate Ligler has specialized in endurance training in both functional strength and conditioning, as well as technical program creation for cyclists, runners, triathletes, and multi-sport endurance athletes for well over a decade. She is a NASM cPT in addition to a NASM CES (corrective) and PES (performance) specialist. 

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